5 by 5 by 5 in 25

What the hell does that mean? It's a simple way to get a kick-ass, effective workout in a short amount of time.

The 5 by 5 by 5 in 25 workout consists of performing 5 exercises for 5 sets each using 5 reps per set – all in 25 minutes.

Here's the standard workout:

  • Squat
  • Bench Press
  • Deadlift
  • Military (Shoulder) Press
  • Barbell Row

The workout is completed using a vertical loading parameter, meaning you perform one set of squats, then one set of bench presses, then one set of deadlifts, one set of military presses, and finish the round with a set of rows. That's the first round, and then you'd immediately start back and cycle through again.

The goal is to get five rounds and thus 25 reps with each exercise. If you can do this in 25 minutes you'll be moving at a brisk pace and your work capacity will definitely be challenged.

The weight you use is up to you and is dependent on your goals and conditioning levels, but I'd suggest using between 65-70% of your 1RM on each exercise.

Setting up a workout like this has several benefits. First, it's fast and you accomplish a lot of quality work – a great combination for busy guys who want to make the most of their gym time.

Technically, the total workout duration will be slightly longer than 25 minutes because you still need to do your pre-workout mobility routine and perform a few warm-up sets of each exercise to prepare for the 25-minute smack down. So budget for another 10-20 minutes, depending on how thorough you are.

That said, once you start the workout it should be completed in 25 minutes or less so it's great if you're pressed for time, and the clock definitely keeps your head in the game.

This workout is also great if you want to maintain or slightly improve your strength while working on some other quality. Just performing this workout once or twice a week allows you to stay in sync with the key barbell lifts while you specialize in something else such as bodyweight exercises, conditioning, or perhaps sporting skills.

Then, when you return to focusing on strength you won't have lost your touch with the weights, and might even find that you're stronger than ever after doing this.

This type of setup is also great to use with teams or groups because it can handle a lot of people at once. You can have five people in a group and just play 'follow the leader' – as soon as one person finishes an exercise, the next person steps up and starts behind him.

You can even have more than five people in a group and assign spotting/rest stations. This way you could easily handle a group of 20 athletes and give them a great workout in 30 minutes, with just four stations for each exercise.

If you're using this type of system to train large groups of people, try to have the groups broken down according to their strength levels to minimize the need to change the weight on the bar.

Another aspect of this workout I really like is the large number of effective variations you can do. First, we can alter the load (and subsequently the reps). Excellent choices include:

Intensity 65-70% 75-80% 85-90%
Sets x Reps 5 x 5 5 x 3 5 x 1

Note: If you're not used to this style of training take 5% off the load until you adapt to it.

Notice that these guidelines line up quite nicely with Prilepin's Chart.

Percent Reps/Sets Optimal Total Range
55-65 3-6 24 18-30
70-80 3-6 18 12-24
80-90 2-4 15 10-20
90+ 1-2 4 10

Another potential variation is the setup of the load. This workout was originally built around using straight sets or sets across (using the same weight on each set for that exercise), but you can use either ascending sets (adding weight each set; Bill Starr had a favorite workout for athletes consisting of 5 x 5 on the squat, bench, and clean with ascending sets completed as fast as possible) or descending sets (decreasing the load each set).

The benefit of using ascending sets is that now the workout really does just take 25 minutes or less because the warm-up sets are built in since you basically just work up to one big work set. This is also its main negative – you're only performing one real work set as opposed to five work sets, thus the total volume of quality work is much lower.

The original workout consists of five barbell exercises and trains the whole body, but feel free to make substitutions and come up with your own combinations. Here are some examples that might work for you:

Upper Body Lower Body Push Pull Power
Bench Press Squat Bench Barbell Row Snatch
Pull-Up Front Squat Incline Pull-Up Clean
Military Press Leg Press Dumbbell Military Press Cable Row Jerk
Dip Split Squat Dip Strict Curl Overhead Squat
Curl Glute-Ham Raise Lying Triceps Extension Dumbbell Curl High Pull

The original workout established a 25 minute timeline. If it takes about 30 seconds to complete a set, then one round can be completed in about 2:30 minutes. Five rounds can be completed in about 12:30 minutes, leaving 12:30 minutes of rest time.

While that might seem like a lot of rest as you sit reading from the comfort of your office chair don't be fooled – in practice you'll feel like you're constantly moving to get the workout in.

Of course, you can change the timeline by shortening it to really tax your work capacity and conditioning, or you can increase or even remove the clock altogether if you just want to focus on strength.

To save yourself time have the weights you're going to lift already set up so you can just jump to the next barbell and begin when you're ready. Yeah, this means you might need to hog some gym equipment for a bit – it happens – but if you're part of a big group you really won't be hogging stuff anyway since all the equipment will be in use continually.

There are lots of ways to incorporate progression into this type of workout. I like to do the 5 x 5 at 70% one week followed by 5 x 3 at 80% the next, then 5 x 1 at 90% for the third week, and in week four go back to 5 x 5 but increase the weight by 5-10 pounds and repeat.

This type of training is particularly applicable to athletes. With most sporting athletes, it usually isn't about what awesome feat they can do once, but instead what awesome feat they can do many times in a row. This type of training builds that ability – when you can work out at a rapid pace with 90%+ of your 1RM repeatedly, it's clear you're learning to maximize your strength potential.

Most of the exercises are self-explanatory (I hope). If you have an injury or don't have access to something feel free to substitute in a version that works for you.

I mentioned barbell rows and I use two types of rows. The first is a 45-degree barbell row (often called a Yates Row) where the bar doesn't touch the ground on each rep. This is significantly easier to do and places less stress on the erectors/lower back. Subsequently, one can typically go heavier with it.

The second is a 90-degree barbell row where each rep starts and ends on the ground – the simplest explanation is it looks like a bench press facing the ground.

This is harder and works the upper and middle back more, and places more emphasis on the erectors when compared to the 45-degree version. The 90-degree row is studlier but I've also seen a higher rate of injury with it, so use caution, especially as the weights get heavy and you're using other exercises in the same circuit that also hit the lower back.

Bottom line, pick whichever one you want to do and go from there.

I've found this to be a fun workout that's also effective and efficient. It gets you out of the gym quickly (never a bad thing), builds work capacity, and most importantly, keeps your brain in the game as you never have time to daydream or post on Facebook.

Tim Henriques has been a competition powerlifter for over 20 years. He was a collegiate All American Powerlifter with USA Powerlifting. In 2003 Tim deadlifted 700 pounds (at 198), setting the Virginia State Record. Follow Tim Henriques on Facebook